House Blue Light Emergency Workers on vacant ‘brownspace’ land

Addressing the complex issue of the housing crisis and the contentious matter of the Green Belt in the same narrative is always going to evoke strong feelings.


Add to that the pressing need to house our emergency services who struggle to be able to live within the city they protect and serve, and the debate becomes even more emotive.

And yet rather than shy away from these difficult issues, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has chosen to address them, both independently and now together, in its new report Brown for Blue, Land to house London’s emergency workers.

In our 2014 Housing report LCCI noted there was a need to consider how the undersupply of housing could affect future London resilience.

Two years later our research found that the majority (54%) of London’s ‘blue light’ emergency service workers – police officers, firefighters, ambulance paramedics – live outside London.

At that time, we called on the Mayor of London to consider how this finding could impact on London’s ability to deal with a major incident.

We also suggested the Mayor should consider altering the London Plan to formally identify the need for emergency services worker housing as an important planning issue for London.

Both these LCCI points were adopted as recommendations in the final report of the independent review, undertaken by Lord Toby Harris, of London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident, but have yet to materialise into anything more.

It is important to emphasise that LCCI raises the point about resilience with ongoing incidents in mind – not with the intention of scaremongering.

Power network failures, industrial action, health pandemics or adverse weather each have the potential to quickly disrupt business  and curtail economic activity – as well as place significant pressure on blue light services which largely perform their duties on a shift-based employment pattern.

Such scenarios could prove particularly challenging if rail lines were disrupted and roads heavily congested.

We know from our research the cost of housing in London has been a central factor as to why most of our dedicated emergency services operatives live outside the capital.

That is concerning, especially as we learn that, within a decade, London will achieve ‘megacity’ status with over ten million residents.

Preparations to meet the challenges of that future metropolis must of course include broad resilience considerations.

There is a prime opportunity to do just that in the review of the draft new London Plan that has just commenced and which will continue throughout 2018.

For this report LCCI placed a primary focus on brownspace* in the 22 per cent of London – across 19 boroughs – that lies in the Metropolitan Green Belt.

All of us will have seen strips of land that has been neglected, derelict or unused for a long time. We were interested in mapping that and commissioned FIND to identify such land.

That process along with Freedom of Information requests produced some interesting findings: that the 22 per cent of Greater London that is designated Metropolitan Green Belt contains 329 hectares of brownspace, which equates to 500 football pitches and that there are 63 golf courses within the London Green Belt of which 20 are located on land owned by a London local authority.

Most crucially the brownspace identified has the potential for up to 20,000 new-builds that could provide homes for the men and women in our police, fire and paramedic services.

The new report from LCCI suggests a limited intervention, with suitable safeguards, to make best use of poor quality and undesirable land to help house London’s emergency workers.

The draft new London Plan review offers a platform for a serious conversation on the use of the capital’s finite space.

That conversation should be shaped by evidence-based, not political, points.